The article is courtesy of Judith E. Pearson, PhD.
Writing is an essential business skill. How do you feel about writing a business letter, a report, a marketing piece, your blog, website content, a proposal, a training manual, a speech, or a contract? Does writing intimidate you? Do you have trouble getting started? If so, these writing tips will help.
Effective writing makes words flow effortlessly onto a page. It relies on developing, organising, synthesising, and communicating ideas; all connected through a common purpose or message. Effective writing ensures that you competently transmit your ideas in a manner such that your readers readily understand those ideas.
The writing process, in fact, can be seen as a repeatable series of steps that reliably result in a finished product – something that others will read or listen to. In this article, I’ll introduce you to the writing method called the POWER Process. This method will structure your writing so that it’s easier to transform your topic into a finished product that you can feel proud of.
The Origins of the POWER Process
The POWER Process was developed in the 1990’s by Dixie Hickman and Sid Jacobson. Their book, The POWER Process, was published in 1997. It describes the mechanics of good writing. Dixie Hickman is an educator and writing/editing consultant. Sid Jacobson is an author, educator, and internationally recognised management consultant and trainer of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). They met when Dixie attended Sid’s training course in NLP.
In case you don’t know, NLP is a method for understanding human psychology and communication patterns. NLP helps people solve problems, accomplish outcomes, and communicate effectively with themselves and others. NLP can be applied in counselling, coaching, teaching, sales, marketing, and management.
When Sid and Dixie met, they discussed their common passion – writing: what makes it difficult and what makes it easy. They compared successful writers’ patterns with those of people who had trouble writing, finding specific differences. By analysing the common activities of successful writers, they developed the POWER Process. As a test, they taught the POWER Process to people who had trouble writing and found that those people improved their writing skills dramatically. I interviewed Sid and Dixie and wrote about the POWER Process in my book: Improve Your Writing with NLP.
The Five Steps in the POWER Process
The POWER Process (an acronym) consists of five steps, Preview, Organise, Write, Evaluate, and Revise. The following paragraphs explain each step.
- Preview: Previewing makes for preliminary planning. When you perform this step well, the other four steps become easy. Previewing has five components, explained below, with the acronym, SPACE:
- Self: First, consider how to present yourself. What is your identity to the reader? Are you a teacher, a coach, a leader, an expert, an adversary or proponent, an advisor, or storyteller? How do you want to come across? The role you choose will set the tone for your speech.
- Purpose: Next, define your purpose. What do you want to accomplish with your product? Will you inform, warn, recommend, validate, propose, sell, criticise, or inspire? What effect do you want to have on your readers? What do you want them to do with the information?
- Audience: Know your readers (or possibly, listeners). Who are they? How can you make your message relevant to their likes, needs, wants, and interests? How will you convince them? What information will prove your point? What can you say that encourage them to act on your message?
- Code: Code is the manner in which you present your information. What format will your product take? Is it a report, an article, a letter, a proposal, a contract? How will you structure your content? Remember that some business writing projects, such as a technical report or a proposal, might follow a standardised format or a format determined by the publisher or customer.
- Experience: Your experience with your topic will convey your knowledge and enthusiasm and lend credibility to your message. What connects you to this topic? What training and education can you bring to bear? What research have you found relevant?
Previewing calls for crucial decisions that will determine the direction of the remaining four steps. It gives continuity to your writing. It alerts you to options for communicating your message. It might even reveal gaps in your information. Take time with this step.
The next step is to assemble the information that will comprise your content and organise your content into a logical sequence. The most common method for organising content is the outline. An easy way to outline is to list your main points and then indent for each subordinate point, like this:
Main Point #1
Subordinate Point #1
Second order subordinate point#1
Main Point #2
Subordinate point #2
Second order subordinate point#2
If you don’t like outlines, you could develop a mind map, diagram, or storyboard, instead. Personally, I prefer mindmaps over outlines. A mind map is a paper-and-pencil method for developing ideas and expanding a topic. Write your topic in the centre of a piece of blank paper. Enclose it in circle or square. Then brainstorm, coming up with relevant subtopics that support your central topic and your purpose. Draw lines branching out from the middle of the page, each connecting to a subtopic. Under each subtopic, list a few keywords representing ideas that will flesh it out. Number each subtopic in a logical sequence. Now you have a skeleton for your writing project. You can learn more about mind-mapping here.
Organising can alert you to ways to illustrate and expand on your main points, as well as showing gaps in your material. When you find these gaps, it’s time for fact-finding or research. Your content might require examples, case studies, statistics, scientific findings, headlines on current events, historical facts, quoted material, or citations. These will back up your assertions and add authority to your content.
Once you’ve organised your content, and conducted any necessary research, begin writing your draft. Remember: it’s a DRAFT. That means it’s going to contain mistakes; don’t expect it to be perfect. Just plunge in and start writing, choosing words and sentences that seem to fit your organisation scheme. As you write, you might find places where your organisation isn’t working and you may need to loop back and rework your scheme. Writing can often be an iterative process: two steps forward and one step backwards.
If you feel intimidated by a blank page, here are some ways to get your creative juices flowing.
- Speak into a voice recorder and then transcribe your spoken words.
- Write to music.
- Ask a colleague to interview you about your topic, taking notes while you speak about it conversationally and spontaneously. Then work from the notes.
- Chunk down the process and give yourself short writing assignments: Write 500 words and take a break for a while. Similarly, you can give yourself the assignment to write for 30 minutes, and then take a break.
- You don’t have to start writing at the beginning. Jump into the place where you feel most comfortable and work outward to other parts of the draft.
When I get stuck in the middle of a writing project, I realise that my organisation hasn’t guided me to the level of detail that I need to proceed. When this happens, I regroup. I stop writing and make a mindmap for the part of the draft where I feel stuck. I ask myself: What do I want to say next, and how do I want to say it? Sometimes, I mindmap a single paragraph or several paragraphs, or a page, and so on, until I feel I have enough content to start writing again.
The secret to getting words onto the page is to get playful, abandoning judgment and self-criticism. Throw away perfectionism. Your aim is to get your ideas into sentences and paragraphs, without worrying about grammar, word choice, or eloquence. You’ll take care of those things later when you revise. Let your narrative flow spontaneously, in all its imperfections!
Now evaluate your draft for structure, consistency, and clarity. Here are a few items you’ll typically evaluate:
- Compare the draft to your original outline or plan. Did you include all the central concepts and subtopics? Does the content have any gaps? Is there anything to weed out? Does the information follow a logical sequence throughout?
- Does the content accomplish your purpose? Are there places where it deviates from the purpose? Look for gratuitous information that could be dropped.
- Does the narrative give you a consistent role and tone of voice?
- Is the content balanced throughout the draft? Is there any section that seems out of proportion – with too little content or too much content?
- Did you substantiate your assertions with fact-finding, when appropriate?
- Are there places where a story, example, analogy, quotation, axiom or illustration could facilitate the reader’s understanding?
- Put yourself in the place of your reader. Test your assumptions about the reader’s knowledge of your topic. Did you write in a way that your reader can understand it?
- If you are writing for a publication, does your piece meet their requirements?
- Evaluate for spelling, grammar, accuracy, and word choices.
To complete your evaluation, it’s always a good idea to ask a colleague to read your piece and give honest feedback. Indicate specifically what kind of feedback you want. Give your colleague the same list that you see above this paragraph.
With your evaluation findings, revise and correct your draft. Revising polishes your product. My own experience is that evaluation and revising form a cyclical process. As I evaluate, I revise. I don’t always wait until the entire draft is complete before I evaluate and revise. The level of granularity varies. Sometimes I write, evaluate, and revise a single paragraph, section, or chapter before proceeding to the next.
Apply the POWER Process in Next Your Writing Project!
The POWER Process structures each step in a writing project. Yet the individual steps are open-ended, allowing for flexibility and adaptation. If you’ve done a thorough job of previewing and organising, you’ll write with fluidity. Your content will follow a logical sequence, reflecting your purpose. If you’ve done careful research, your content will garner credibility. If you’ve done a detailed job of evaluating and revising, your readers will easily comprehend your message. You won’t discover these benefits until you apply the POWER Process in your next writing project. I think you’ll like the process as well as the finished product!
You’ll find this information and much more about effective writing in my book: Improve Your Writing with NLP.
Dr Judy Pearson, PhD is a licensed counsellor, author, certified hypnotherapist, and NLP Trainer. She is a communication coach to therapists, coaches, speakers, entrepreneurs, and business managers. She is also a freelance writer/editor. Her website is www.JPearsonWordsmith.com.